Crime - Sacto 911

Arson suspect in case that entangled father of French train hero Spencer Stone pleads guilty

A suspect accused in a massive arson-for-profit scheme that also entangled the father of French train hero Spencer Stone has pleaded guilty in a move that will net him 30 years in prison.

Jamal Mustafa Shehadeh, 58, agreed to the plea in an unusual Saturday night court hearing before U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr., who then sentenced him, court filings show.

“He decided to plead guilty instead of going to trial,” Shehadeh’s assistant federal defender, Matthew Bockman, said Monday.

Shehadeh, who has been in custody at the Sacramento County jail since being charged in a 60-count indictment in February 2016, pleaded guilty to two counts of arson in a case that allegedly included numerous fires that destroyed Sacramento buildings, $1.5 million in insurance payouts, classified government evidence and even suggestions of murder.

Shehadeh was indicted along with a relative, Saber Shehadeh, and Brian Stone, a disbarred California attorney and father of Spencer Stone.

Saber Shehadeh owned two of the properties destroyed by fire, and Brian Stone, a 59-year-old Elk Grove man, provided consultant services in assisting with the insurance claims, the indictment alleges.

Stone’s son and two of his childhood friends from Sacramento are the subject and stars of a just-released Clint Eastwood film, “The 15:17 to Paris,” about their August 2015 heroics aboard a Paris-bound train when they tackled and disarmed a terror suspect.

Spencer Stone told The Bee in 2016 that he has not known what his father does “for a long time” and declined comment.

The case against Saber Shehadeh and Brian Stone, who faces wire and mail fraud charges, is pending.

Jamal Shehadeh was accused of a series of four arsons and seven fraudulent insurance claims, and was suspected of more than a dozen others, according to court filings by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Anderson and Christopher Hales.

He faced a minimum sentence of 55 years if convicted on all counts, and a maximum of 1,180 years, court documents say.

“Shehadeh is a serial arsonist and insurance fraud who has evaded prosecution for decades while endangering members of the community,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing in March 2016, when Shehadeh was attempting to win his release on bail.

“In this criminal endeavor, Shehadeh has been assisted by his reputation within the Sacramento Arabic speaking community for arson and for killing potential prosecution witnesses,” prosecutors wrote. “This reputation, unfortunately, is based in fact.”

The indictment alleged the scheme included fires on Dec. 27, 2009, at 427 10th St. and 1001 E St., a June 9, 2010, fire at 511 Broadway, an April 23, 2012, fire at 6964 65th St., and a Sept. 24, 2012, fire at 5725 Marconi Ave.

The indictment also cited an Oct. 15, 2012, fire at 910 University Ave. and a June 16, 2013, blaze at 2764 Fulton Ave.

Portions of the case have been shrouded in secrecy because of claims by prosecutors that some evidence is governed by the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Judge England ruled in October 2016 that some information in the case “implicates the government’s national security and classified information privilege because … its disclosure could cause serious damage to the national security of the United States.”

Prosecutors also accused Jamal Shehadeh of violence, and tied him in court filings to the 1996 slaying of a woman who had recently come to the United States from China.

Tong Fang Huang was found slain with a single shot to the back of the head inside Jim’s Market, a Stockton Boulevard convenience market, and had a $250,000 life insurance policy payable to her boyfriend, who was related to Shehadeh by marriage, prosecutors wrote.

“Witnesses have been reluctant to cooperate with the FBI, citing Shehadeh’s reputation and their fears that he will try to kill them if released,” prosecutors wrote. “That reputation and those fears are supported by actual facts that are found in the cold case homicide file for the murder of Tong Fang Huang.”

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam